The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has reopened following a major $85 million dollar renovation, and as a result, the newly-conserved Star-Spangled Banner again has a place of honor – this time in a state-of-the-art, custom-designed display gallery with the theme "By the Dawn's Early Light."
The Smithsonian has cared for the original Star-Spangled Banner and exhibited it to the public since 1907, and has worked for years to preserve the flag's already-fragile state. However, even periodic cleanings and special care could not stem the effects of natural deterioration and the damaging impact of artificial light and air pollutants on its woolen fibers. By 1994, museum officials realized that, despite past care, the flag required further and more specialized conservation treatment to enable it to remain on public display.
The conservation of the Star-Spangled Banner became Save America's Treasures' flagship project. On July 13, 1998, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton were joined by then Smithsonian Secretary Michael Heyman to formally announce the Save America's Treasures campaign and a highly-visible effort to save the iconic Star-Spangled Banner.
Extraordinary public and private contributions to the Star-Spangled Banner project, including substantial support from Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation and the Pew Charitable Trust, supported the detailed examination, treatment analysis, and preservation of the flag in a state-of-the-art glass laboratory that allowed the public to observe the conservation process in keeping with the tradition that the flag never be out of public view.
Conservators thoroughly studied the flag's condition and the causes of its deterioration, designing special treatments to help prevent further damage. The project provided the Smithsonian with many research opportunities to inform and advance museum and conservation practices and apply the latest scientific research and techniques to preserve the flag's fabric.
Exhibit designers were faced with challenges, but envisioned a permanent display that would ensure the flag's long-term preservation while evoking its significance as a historic artifact and national symbol. Visitors to the exhibit now take an exciting narrative journey that maximizes the dramatic impact of seeing the Star-Spangled Banner and leaves a lasting impression of the significance of this flag and the national anthem it inspired.